In a powerful solo performance, Academy Award nominee David Strathairn (“Nomadland,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Lincoln”) tells the true story of reluctant World War II hero and Holocaust witness Jan Karski with Strathairn also portraying over 30 other characters in Great Performances: Remember This, premiering March 13 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN.
A multilingual Polish junior foreign diplomat before the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, Jan Karski conducted missions in and out of Poland as part of the Polish Underground resistance. He not only barely survived Nazi torture, he also witnessed up close the genocidal horrors in the Warsaw Ghetto and at the Izbica transit camp. What shocked him more: the unimaginably brutal persecution of Jews, or the failure of allied governments to take action after he gave them first-hand reports? (The failures are a focus of the series, The U.S. and the Holocaust, that aired last year).The premiere is part of Great Performances’ 50th anniversary season. The broadcast will be followed by Remembering Jan Karski, a behind-the-scenes companion film produced by The WNET Group’s Exploring Hate initiative that examines the ongoing relevance of Jan Karski’s story.
At times addressing the audience directly, Strathairn powerfully communicates this story of moral courage and individual responsibility that has become even more urgent for today’s world. After surviving the devastation of the Blitzkrieg, Karski swears allegiance to the Polish Underground and risks his life to carry the first eyewitness reports of the Holocaust to the Western world, and ultimately, the Oval Office. Escaping a Gestapo prison, bearing witness to the despair of the Warsaw ghetto and confronted by the barbaric inhumanity of a death camp, Karski endures mental anguish and physical torture to stand tall and speak the truth.Presented in stark black and white, the intimate film utilizes a minimal set that transforms into many locations through the use of dramatic lighting effects. Produced by Eva Anisko and directed by Jeff Hutchens and Derek Goldman, the film is based on the play “Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski” by Clark Young and Derek Goldman that was originally produced by the Laboratory for Global Performance & Politics at Georgetown University. The film was shot on in July 2020 at a Brooklyn soundstage at the height of the pandemic and was completed in 2022. Earlier this year, the film was released by Abramorama in collaboration with Great Performances, in a limited theatrical run to critical acclaim.
Who Was Jan Karski?
Immediately following the broadcast, The WNET Group’s reporting initiative, Exploring Hate, looks behind the scenes of Remember This with a companion film, Remembering Jan Karski. The piece features interviews with actor David Strathairn and the film’s creative team, along with those who knew Karski personally including Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, and former President of Georgetown University, Father Leo O’Donovan. Remembering Jan Karski provides insight into the real-life hero’s character and legacy and while reflecting on what what his story can teach us about the issues we face today.
Jan Karski (b. April 24, 1914, Łódź, Poland; d. July 13, 2000, Washington, DC) spent most of his years in the U.S. as a professor at Georgetown University, where he taught from 1949 to 1995. In 1982, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem awarded Jan Karski the title of a Righteous Among the Nations. In 2012, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Karski the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
A cast of a sculpture of Karski on a bench, seated next to a chess board, is on the sidewalk in front of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York City, at the corner of 37th Street and Madison Avenue.
Exploring Hate is The WNET Group’s multi-platform reporting initiative about the roots and rise of hate in America and across the globe. The initiative probes the past and investigates the present to better understand the current alarming increase in bias, injustice, and disinformation that threatens democracy and human rights. Learn more about Karski on the Georgetown University Library site.
Throughout its 50-year history on PBS, Great Performances has provided an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming. Showcasing a diverse range of artists from around the world, the series has earned 67 Emmy Awards and six Peabody Awards. The Great Performances website hosts exclusive videos, interviews, photos, full episodes and more. The series is produced by The WNET Group. Great Performances is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on PBS.org and the PBS App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO.